An illusion of protection in the Rockies

In this week’s newsletter, we chat with Prairies reporter Drew Anderson about two stories from the Rockies — where tensions over logging and development have communities fighting for the natural world
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Hikers wearing backpacks stand on a bridge entrance with tarps and concrete blocks stacked on the riverbank, with forest in the background
This fall, The Narwhal’s Drew Anderson drove about an hour west of his home in Calgary to Kananaskis Country: a gem along the eastern slopes of the Alberta Rockies.

In a region dotted with national and provincial parks that attract plenty of hikers and city dwellers, you’d be forgiven for assuming industrial activity here is off-limits.

But, as Drew writes, “that sense of protection is an illusion.”

Sandwiched between protected land lies Highwood Pass — where an area the size of more than 2,000 football fields is set to be clear-cut starting this winter.

Drew walked into the area scheduled to be logged with three members of Take A Stand for Kananaskis, a group that’s been advocating for protections.

“They talked about the innumerable small trickles of water and tiny nameless creeks that will disappear,” Drew said. “They talked about how these spaces are disappearing even as more people seek them out.”

Kananaskis was designed to be a place where industry and nature could coexist. But as this logging saga makes clear, that’s difficult — and as one group member told Drew, the fight is over protecting the scraps that are left after decades of industrial activity
Elk cross Bow River in Canmore, Alberta.
The tensions over the natural world in the Rockies aren’t isolated to Kananaskis. Drive another 15 minutes west and you’ll reach Canmore, where the Three Sisters Mountain Village development is set to nearly double the town’s population.

Late last month the town council there was forced to approve the development after a 31-year battle that winded its way through the courts. But things won’t end there: the developer is suing the town and individual councillors for $161 million for “decades of obstruction.” One of the owners has taken the step of writing an open letter warning residents of the severe costs of “immoral” dissent.

Whether it’s Kananaskis or Canmore or the still-unfolding political decisions around coal mining along the eastern slopes, Drew is keeping a close eye on all things Rockies.

“The logging that’s set to take place is just one part of the larger story about Kananaskis and how we manage such important spaces for Alberta,” he said. “The pressures of an expanding population on the doorstep of the eastern slopes are going to continue to mount — and there are big conversations that need to be had on how we use the land.”

Take care and don’t settle for scraps,

Arik Ligeti
Director of audience

P.S. We’re hiring a director of operations and finance! Do you know someone who would be a good fit — and help this pod of Narwhals thrive? Forward them this newsletter! The deadline to apply is this Sunday.

P.P.S. An earlier version of this newsletter incorrectly described Kananaskis Country as being an hour east of Calgary. It’s actually an hour west of Calgary and we shamefully apologize for this geographical mistake 😭

This week in The Narwhal

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What we’re reading

For Hakai Magazine, Tiare Tuuhia writes about an ancient practice in French Polynesia that puts everyone in charge of protecting the sea.

An old fish sauce plant in Newfoundland is a stinking, hazardous mess. In The Globe and Mail, Jenn Thornhill Verma writes about whose mess it is to clean up.
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POV: Narwhal reporters taking you on a hike to find stories you won’t find anywhere else. Want your friends to come along? Tell them to sign up for our weekly newsletter!
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